Monday, November 19, 2007
Emotional Intelligence and ACAs (Adult Children of Alcoholics)
August 20th, 2007
Everyone in the alcoholic’s family suffers effects from the
disease. Typically everyone involved in the life of the
alcoholic and dysfunctional family has low or no emotional
intelligence. They don’t know what they think or feel, and don’t
think they have a right to. Many of the challenges facing Adult
Children of Alcoholics (ACAs) can be addressed by developing
Emotional Intelligence. Here are some examples.
[Source: Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization
1. ACAs tend to over-react to anger and criticism, and are
afraid of authority figures.
EQ COMPETENCY: Constructive discontent.
If you’re an ACA and someone gets angry at you, you shrink
inside and shut down or panic, reacting in a way that isn’t
always appropriate to the actual real-life situation. Learning
constructive ways to deal with the emotions engendered by
disagreement and criticism are part of EQ.
Emotional Intelligence means not taking constructive criticism
personally and emotionally, but getting the message and
benefiting from it. Experiencing fear and anger, strong emotions
designed for survival, can’t be controlled, but we always have a
choice in how we respond to them.
2. ACAs often feel isolated and lonely and uneasy with other
EQ COMPETENCY: Interpersonal skills, Emotional Expression and
Isolation is one of the worst things we can do to ourselves. To
live in emotional isolation can be worse on our health than such
things as smoking and being overweight. Learning to communicate
well, and express feelings appropriately is part of the EQ
3. ACAs feel like victims when something bad happens to them.
EQ COMPETENCY: Personal Power.
Personal Power is the opposite of victim-ology. Instead of
asking “Who will take care of me?” you learn to ask, “How will I
take care of myself?” It means building confidence in your
ability to handle your life and believing that you can do it.
4. ACAs are often uncomfortable with emotional intimacy. They’re
afraid to reveal their feelings and who they are, and reluctant
to become vulnerable.
EQ COMPETENCY: Emotional Expression.
The first step in EQ is self-awareness; to become aware of your
feelings. Only then can you learn how to express them accurately
5. ACAs tend to confuse pity with love, and to be more concerned
about others than they are about themselves.
EQ COMPETENCY: Interpersonal skills, Empathy.
Healthy Empathy means being able to understand where the other
person is coming from, but with respect for one’s own
boundaries. You can understand how the other person feels, but
not have to join them in the feeling. Empathy does not involve
the feeling of pity.
6. ACAs judge themselves harshly and are over-responsible. Often
they are perfectionists.
EQ COMPETENCY: Being adamantly and relentlessly self-forgiving.
Understanding that we’re human, and that we all make mistakes is
what this is all about. It takes a lot of practice for most of
us to ‘get’ this competency. It involves self-talk and learned
optimism, and managing the emotions of failures, losses,
rejections and mistakes. It isn’t good for your health, your
work, or your relationships to be a perfectionist!
7. ACAs have difficulty in identifying, understanding, and
expressing their feelings.
EQ COMPETENCY: EQ!
The cornerstone of Emotional Intelligence is self-awareness –
being able to identify and understand your feelings. If you
lived in an environment where feelings were not welcome,
denigrated, mocked, punished, ignored, denied, or lied about, it
will take some practice to be able to bring them up, identify
them, and understand them. That’s what EQ coaching is all about!
8. ACAs over-value the approval of others, and will ignore their
own values, preferences and beliefs in deference to others’.
Feeling vulnerable, they protect themselves by being overly
anxious to please others.
EQ COMPETENCY: Integrated Self, Personal Power and
These competencies help us stay centered, and act with intent,
based on our own values, preferences, feelings, thoughts, and
beliefs. When we own and claim our Personal Power, we can aim to
get along with others with good will, but are no longer driven
to please someone else at our own expense.
9. ACAs tend to be addicted to excitement. They are risk seekers
who prefer constant upset to workable solutions.
EQ COMPETENCY: Understanding, accepting and processing emotions,
operating with Intentionality, and often being able eventually
to modulate emotions.
EQ means learning where emotions come from and how they operate
and being able to make choices instead of knee jerk reactions.
We learn the different ‘feel’ or emotions from the reptilian
brain and the limbic brain, and when and how to blend this with
the thinking brain, the neocortex. Understanding where the need
for excitement comes from allows us to manage it, and avoid
chaotic situations that self-sabotage. EQ is all about workable
solutions and how to achieve them.
10. ACAs are imprisoned by childhood reactions.
EQ COMPETENCY: Emotional Intelligence.
Emotional Intelligence means understanding where emotions come
from, and being able to experience them, consider them, learn
from them, and then make a decision to respond (or not), instead
of reacting without thinking. Developing your Emotional
Intelligence will help you avoid being entrapped in any
unrealistic, rash or un-reasoned reaction.
Check out the Orange County ACA website at: Orange County Adult Children
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
Adult children of alcoholics can practice ‘being normal’
“Sometimes I feel like I was raised by wolves,” sighed James, a 55-year-old man who grew up in a home with two alcoholic parents. “I’ve gone through so much of my life guessing at what ‘normal’ is. It’s like trying to find your way through a dark woods without a compass.”
According to Rosemary Hartman, supervisor of the Hazelden Family Program in Center City, Minn., reactions like James’ are typical for people who grew up in dysfunctional families. But acknowledging that there were issues that deeply affected the whole family system is an important first step toward emotional and spiritual healing.
Hartman said this acknowledgment frequently happens when adults have their own children. “They want to be good parents, but struggle with how to do it. They have some notions that are guided by principles in culture that sound good, but they don’t know how to practice them because they had no role models.”
Often, children raised in alcoholic families learn the “four Ds” early on:
Don’t talk about what is really going on.
Don’t trust anyone but yourself.
Don’t feel or have needs because there is no one available to validate or respond to you.
Deny there is a problem.
Because they don’t know what “normal” is, they may constantly seek approval or affirmation. What might be considered overachieving by others might seem routine to children of alcoholics who learned to try to be perfect so they wouldn’t disrupt things or incur the wrath of the alcoholic.
Children in such a system may also have trouble identifying or expressing their feelings. In their homes it may not have been okay to cry or be angry. Sentiments crucial to a child like “I’m sorry,” or even “I love you,” might have been absent or not authentic, delivered without an emotional foundation or behaviors consistent with such statements.
There is a saying in Twelve Step mutual-help groups that “We’re only as sick as our secrets,” but breaking the pattern of secrecy or the no-talk rules that may have existed in a family can be difficult. “It’s only been within the last 25-30 years that people began to talk about these things,” explained Hartman. “For persons with older parents, there was such a lack of understanding of addiction as an illness. It was considered a moral issue, and people with addictions were viewed as weak—as bad parents, people or spouses.”
It’s important to understand, said Hartman, that acknowledging the reality of an alcoholic family is not about blame. It’s about understanding the disease of alcoholism and the dire effects it can have on a family, then taking responsibility for your own behavior once you’ve gained the tools with which to live a healthy and balanced life.
An Al-Anon-affiliated group for adult children is an excellent place to start, said Hartman. “Part of the problem with growing up in an alcoholic family system is there aren’t consistent principles and values,” she said. “The Twelve Steps offer a set of principles by which we can live that are in line with every belief system.”
A Twelve Step group also provides a safe place where people can check things out to see if their responses, reactions and feelings are appropriate. In other words, it’s a great place to practice “being normal,” ask for help, and receive support and validation.
Hartman said that people on a journey of healing typically go through a grief process, encountering emotions like denial, anger and fear along the way. There is often grief surrounding the loss of the myth of family and the loss of a happy childhood. The goal, she said, is to learn about addiction, develop new coping mechanisms, let go of resentment or judgment, and ultimately move to a place of compassion and kindness towards others.
Hartman cautions adult children to approach recovery “slowly and quietly,” and to concentrate on themselves. “This is your own personal journey and it may be threatening to family members who still view alcoholism as a moral failing or who feel you are being disloyal by telling family secrets. You can’t take others along, but you can demonstrate positive changes. We can’t rewrite history, but we can take steps today to make sure that history doesn’t repeat itself.”
Check out the Orange County ACA website at: Orange County Adult Children